Corbyn and the countryside

If Jeremy Corbyn wins tomorrow, it is a fair bet his election will not be welcomed in ‘middle England’. The only good thing the Daily Telegraph, for instance, has found to say about him is that it approves his vest.

In the distant days when I was involved in the Labour Party, I was not on Jeremy Corbyn’s wing of the part. I shared Michael Foot’s view of ‘Bennfoolerly’. But Corbyn has fought a remarkably good campaign, combining hope and inspiration with weighty policy pronouncements (much weightier, anyway, than the other three contenders).

So, what can supporters of CPRE expect if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour Leader? Usefully, he has said more about planning, the environment and the countryside than all the other candidates put together. As I wrote in a previous blog, he supports the Green Belt and highlights the importance of children engaging with nature.

And he does not spend all his time at liberation rallies. His local paper reports that he bakes his own bread, has “a fascination with British cheese – he’s a Stilton man – and a love of his allotment in East Finchley, where he can be found digging at weekends”. The local achievement of which he is proudest is helping create the Gillespie Nature Park in his constituency, when there were plans to build on the site.

In a recent paper on Rural Renewal he says: “I was born in rural Wiltshire and grew up in Shropshire… Labour must become as much a party in communities like the one in which I was born as it is in inner city constituencies like the one I represent.”

The paper notes that “farming is at the heart of the rural economy, and its benefits are felt… throughout Britain”. On milk prices, he says: “It is simply not fair that any worker should have to sell their product for less than it costs them to produce…” Farming subsidies, he says, “should go to farmers engaging in the most ecologically sustainable practices, not those with the largest landholdings”.

There is little anyone could object to in Rural Renewal, though it is aimed more at those “struggling with issues such as housing costs, public service cuts and social exclusion” than at rural communities as a whole.

Perhaps more important than Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, or even his love of British cheese is the fact that his politics look back to an era before the market was the measure of all things. One of the important divisions in British politics now is not between the political parties, but between those who believe essentially that you cannot buck the market and that economic growth is the overriding aim of politics, and those who sometimes want to constrain markets in the public interest – including through the planning system.

Within the Conservative Party, this is characterised as a difference between Economist Tories and Country Life Tories. The Labour Party has the same divisions. In these post-ideological times I have heard Labour MPs who apparently take their lines on planning from the Institute of Economic Affairs or the Adam Smith Institute (the Adam Smith Institute for the Criminally Insane, as Alan Bennett calls it).

Jeremy Corbyn is not post-ideological and he is not a moderniser. In some ways his politics remind me of Christopher Logue’s 1966 poem:

I shall vote Labour because deep in my heart I am a Conservative.

OK, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, if it happens, is unlikely to be hailed by voters in rural England. He will be judged on his views on foreign policy, defence, human rights, the economy and many areas of policy not covered in this blog. But on housing, planning, the environment and wider rural issues, it is good that he has had something to say – and I do not think that many people could take exception with what he has said.

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